Car Market Chronicles

Ford is Redesigning Itself by Working with Sub-brands

Success of Mustang Mach-E and Bronco Sport encourages maker to use spin-offs to strengthen its image and face new challenges

Initial projection of future dealerships dedicated to the Bronco sub-brand

Branding is an essential part of any company’s image; it makes it visible for the public and clearly expresses its principles and goals. As a result, most companies continuously review their branding strategies and show no fear of investing time and money in them. Sub-brands have proven themselves very helpful at that.

Recent decisions such as cancelling urban cars in North America and ending production altogether in Brazil have shaken the Dearborn automaker and, as a result, raised the need for reinvention. One of the strategies it has chosen to execute for that is working with sub-brands — which has already started with Mustang and Bronco.

Not only is this Chronicle going to show you what Ford has done and the goals it has defined for the upcoming years but also what sub-brands in general can do when properly executed. Even though automakers have worked with them for years, the accumulated experience has made them execute this strategy much more effectively.

The Mach-E crossover is the first member of the upcoming Mustang family

What exactly are sub-brands?

We can consider them specialized divisions. Automakers typically found them to pretty much manufacture as many independent public images as they want because car models are depending on them more than ever to stand out in the crowd — not only emotional types like luxury and performance, but also some practical ones.

Sub-brands go way beyond the logo. They have a whole visual identity of their own, which involves online presence, dedicated area on showroom floors and auto shows, specialized attention from the staff and, when it comes to the cars themselves, exclusive visual identity and marketing actions. We can see them as brands inside a brand.

When they become successful, the parent automaker tends to gradually grant them more possibilities and resources: Lexus, for instance, has become almost independent from Toyota. In case they struggle to conquer their market share, the opposite action takes place and they end up phased out; that is the case of the old captive importers.

The all-new Bronco was already born as the head of a sub-brand of its own

How is Ford working with them?

Although “Mustang” has become one of the strongest car nameplates currently available in the market, the model has only had coupé and roadster variations in over fifty years. Ford believes it has enough potential to accommodate more of them, which is why it decided to develop its electric crossover around it and name it Mustang Mach-E.

Purists will always complain, but it is difficult to deny that Ford did a great job adapting the original visual identity to the new model. The goal in these cases is to emulate genetics: siblings, for instance, have unique appearances created from the same pool of family traits. The Mach-E employs several design tricks to achieve that result.

More recently, the automaker began to use the same train of thought with the Bronco. The all-new generation was designed in a way to specifically fight the Jeep Wrangler, which means rugged design and high off-road capabilities, but Ford knew it could benefit more from that image. That is why the toned-down Bronco Sport also came.

The Tourneo/Transit vans already have enough versions to become yet another sub-brand

Which cars will also get sub-brands?

Official information is still scarce, but that is easy to speculate. The automaker offers so many variations of the Tourneo/Transit vans that they can already be considered another sub-brand; it is only a matter of sculpting their image that way. The F-Series pickup trucks make a similar case, although their strongest member is the F-150 by far.

If Ford actually does that, it will be expected to develop a new design identity for each line, with little or no similarities with its general one. Names are also prone to change: the vans could simply become Courier, Connect and Custom, for example. The trucks would pose a challenge because F-150 is too strong to be changed all of a sudden.

The Bronco is making such a success that US dealers are considering giving its line specific showrooms. While that is a bolder move, since it implies opening new stores with sales demands of their own, it is the natural next step for sub-brands: it grants them all the resources to interact with customers and be seen in an independent way.

While the F-150 pickup may be too risky to change, the Raptor trim could easily become another sub-brand

When properly executed, sub-brands can multiply the market potential of an automaker by giving it several independent images. What can you say about Ford’s work with them? If you think it is going the right way, what other cars would you like to see getting their own sub-brand? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions below!

Writer and future engineer striving to work with car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.